Meeting Your Tribe
By Dawn Shaw
Normally, I am not shy about trying new things and meeting new people, but when it came to attending AboutFace’s Family Camp Trailblazers near Vancouver, BC in May of 2015, I was nervous. For the first time in my life, I would be part of an assembly of people, most of whom had one thing in common: facial difference.
Attending this event was forcing me outside of my comfort zone, and that was, well, uncomfortable.
This particular Camp Trailblazers was a family camp, where all ages were welcome. It deviated from the typical teen-centered Camp Trailblazers because a gathering of this kind hadn’t ever been held on the west coast previously, and AboutFace wanted to include as many interested persons as possible. Because families were welcome, there would be family members in attendance who didn’t have a facial difference.
I confess I had reservations about going. But why? I’ve had partial facial paralysis all my life, due to a removal of a tumor shortly after birth. One might think I’d be delighted to meet others who share what I’ve been through.
It’s not that I’m afraid to meet other people with facial differences. I’ve driven miles out of my way during vacation trips to meet up with individuals I’d developed connections with online, but usually only one or two at a time. There was something daunting about meeting an entire group all at once.
When it came down to it, I was afraid of losing my uniqueness. For most of my life, I didn’t have opportunities to interact with other people that have facial differences. Because I have a degree of confidence and acceptance regarding my appearance, I am comfortable with the fact that my face helps me to stand out. I like to be unique and don’t mind being recognizable. In fact, I use it to my advantage when I can. It wasn’t until I became active on social media that I discovered how many others with facial differences are out there. In a whole group of people with nonstandard visages, however, I feared that one aspect of my uniqueness would be taken away.
I was also concerned that I would suffer from role-reversal. Instead of having people stare at me, I’d be trying hard not to stare at everyone else!
What solidified my decision to attend were two things. First, I had already met David Roche and considered him a mentor and a friend. I’d also corresponded quite a bit with Colleen Wheatley, former AboutFace Programs Manager, via email, and was looking forward to meeting her. Thus, there were people there I knew and considered friends. Secondly, because young people were attending, it was an opportunity for me to join other adult attendees in demonstrating that someone with a significant facial difference can still live an interesting, productive and happy life.
Once we had all assembled, I initially stuck with those who were most familiar- David and Colleen. But once we got to the camp and we all started to interact, I felt increasingly like I was coming home. An incredible sense of community was created, and instead of being among strangers, I began to feel like I had found my tribe. There really is no replacement for people who have shared similar experiences- the hospital stays, the way we are looked at and treated by others, and relationship challenges, to name a few.
Stepping out of my comfort zone wasn’t such a bad thing. In fact, it turned out very well. By the end of the weekend, I had partaken in some wonderful and insightful conversations, fun activities, and most importantly, I’d made new friends.
I also knew I would never feel awkward going to a similar event in the future, even if I didn’t know anyone else there. Eventually I would like to attend an Adult Retreat.
If you are on the fence about attending an AboutFace event such as Camp Trailblazers or the Adult Retreat, my advice is go for it! Step out of your comfort zone and meet your tribe. It’s totally worth it.